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Pregnant and living in a toxic environment?

As I write this article, I am reflecting on the theme of environmental issues during pregnancy. At the moment, my environment is outdoors, sitting on a six foot wooden porch swing. My surroundings are green. I see grasses, azalea bushes, several white and rose colored crepe myrtles, purple butterfly bushes, and hydrangeas.

The spaces between the bushes are filled with rainbow colors of three to six foot cosmos flowers. Bees, butterflies, and bunnies are sharing my environment. In the distance I can clearly see the Great Smokey Mountains with varying shades of rich greens. A gentle warm breeze comes and goes and the air is sweet and fresh. I can hear distant church bells ringing on the hour. The sun is bright and the sky is blue, with a few fluffy white clouds. There are no voices, no people, and the only noise is the 'Little River' flowing over the rocks. For me, this environment creates calm and peace. I am physically and emotionally relaxed, having no issues to consider. This is a visual of one piece of the puzzle in describing "my environment." Take a look with me at several other environmental puzzle pieces to consider, especially during pregnancy. What makes an environment toxic?

Toxicity is the degree to which a substance can cause damage to an organism. Three general types of toxicity entities include; chemical, biological, and physical.

* Chemical toxins include organic substances such as lead, mercury, pesticides, asbestos, chlorine gas, methyl alcohol, and most medications.

--Lead--can be harmful to everyone but especially harmful to young children and pregnant women. Contact with lead during pregnancy can put you at risk for miscarriage and your baby may be at risk for low birth weight and developmental delays. If you live in a house that was build before 1978, you could be in contact with lead through the paint. Lead is also found in pipes in the plumbing systems of older homes and buildings. Boiling water does not get rid of lead.

--Mercury--two kinds that can be harmful during pregnancy are elemental (pure) and methyl mercury. Examples of elemental mercury are dental fillings that are silver colored and older thermometers. This mercury is also found in fluorescent bulbs; if the glass breaks, small amounts of mercury can get into the air you breathe. Methyl mercury is what can get in our water supply from natural resources such as volcanoes, burning coal, and other pollutions. It can get into your body by eating fish that swim in waters containing methyl mercury.

--Pesticides--harmful during the pregnancy leading to miscarriage, preterm birth, low birth weight, birth defects and learning problems. All pregnant women need to stay away from pesticides.

--Plastics--contain two types of chemicals... phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA). Phthalates are found in toys, shampoos, cosmetics, and food packaging. BPA is sometimes used in baby bottles, metal cans, and water bottles. More research is needed to know of chemicals in plastics that can harm your pregnancy or baby. It is recommended by the March of Dimes that you not use plastic containers with the number '7' or the letters PC in the triangle found on the bottom. Also, limit use of canned foods, do not microwave food in plastic containers or put plastics in the dishwasher.

* Biological toxins include viruses and bacteria that induce disease in a living organism. Since the immune system is compromised during pregnancy, mother needs to stay in a disease free environment.

--Listeriosis--an infection caused by listeria monocytogenes bacteria. The bacteria are found in sewage, plants, water, soil, and contaminated foods. To decrease the risk of listeriosis and other food borne illnesses, pregnant women should take additional precautions. Do not drink unpasteurized milk or foods made with unpasteurized milk. Avoid eating soft cheeses such as feta, brie, Mexican style cheeses such as queso blanco, queso fresco, and panela unless they have labels saying they are made from pasteurized milk. Wash raw vegetables, heat to steam hot dogs and deli meats. Keep refrigerator at or below 40 degrees fahrenheit. Do not eat refrigerated pate, meat spreads, or refrigerated smoked sea food.

* Physical toxins, due to their substance, interfere with biological processes. An examples of a physical toxins would be asbestos fibers which, when inhaled, can ultimately be fatal. Coal dust, when inhaled, can lead to respiratory complications.

Knowing and teaching the environmental risks during pregnancy is an important component for all childbirth education classes. Every mother wants a healthy pregnancy. Consider the components of a healthy pregnancy:

* Early and consistent prenatal care

* Establishing and maintaining a nutritional plan

* Maintaining physical activity

* Having an emotional wellness plan

* Keeping your environment safe for mother and baby

The childbirth educator assists the mother in looking at her total environment, including what she ingests, what she uses on her body and everything in her environmental surroundings which include her home, workplace, and places traveled. She may need extra protection at work or a change in job duties to stay safe and healthy.

Development of an educational plan focused on environmental health hazards is a critical component for the childbirth educator to introduce when working with pregnant women and their families. This is not an easy task and evidence based information on key topics as plastics, cosmetics, foods, spa treatments, tattoos. Only to name a few, are changing.

The educator and doula can keep informed of environmental risks during pregnancy and birth by using research based resources.



March of Dimes Foundation. (2013). Environmental Risks and Pregnancy. Retrieved September 15, 2013, from
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Title Annotation:Across the President's Desk
Author:Lantz, Nancy
Publication:International Journal of Childbirth Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2013
Previous Article:Environmental risks.
Next Article:Environmental education during the childbearing year.

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